After a frustrating series that saw Atlanta lose two of three to the Chicago Cubs, the Braves head to St. Louis for a three-game set against the Cardinals.
Coming into the series, St. Louis sports a record of 20-11, which is tied for the best record in the National League with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Cardinals enter on a hot streak, as they have won four in a row and have scored no less than six runs in any of those wins.
Through its 31 games, St. Louis has a run differential of +75, which is the best in all of baseball. The next closest is Texas at +68.
Simply put, St. Louis has been the best offensive team in the National League so far and it hasn't been close. The Cardinals rank first in batting average (.287), on-base average (.357), slugging (.467), wOBA (.362), and wRC+ (132). It's been an absolutely ridiculous start for the Cardinals offensively. and Atlanta will have its hands full this weekend.
Quietly, former Brave Rafael Furcal has had a fantastic start to his season. The shortstop has hit .361/.423/.508 with .413 wOBA and a 168 wRC+.
A player whose hot start hasn't gone under the radar so far is Carlos Beltran. He's sporting a .284/.391/.569 line with a team leading (among qualified hitters) ISO of .284 to go along with a .418 wOBA and 171 wRC+. David Freese also has been impressive, with a .239 ISO and a line of .312/.375/.550. Yadier Molina brings more of the same to the table, as he has hit .302/.353/.528 with a .388 wOBA and 150 wRC+.
The only weak-spot in the lineup has been second base.
What's scary is that St. Louis has been doing this without Lance Berkman for all but seven games. That, however, is expected to change Friday as the slugger is thought to be activated from the disabled list for Friday night's game.
An already potent offense gets even better with the addition of Berkman. It's just a crazy good lineup.Friday, May 11th, 8:15 PM ET
Game one of the series is a match-up of left-handers with Mike Minor taking on Jaime Garcia. Garcia enters at 2-2 with a 3.76 ERA, 3.08 FIP, and 3.94 xFIP. Brooks Baseball has Garcia featuring a four-seam fastball, sinker, curveball, slider, and change. Primarily, he works off the sinker with the change and slider being his primary off-speed selections. He gets a really good 28.57 whiff percentage on the change, which is by far the highest of any of his pitches. So far in 2012, his K/9 numbers are down from 7.21 in 2011 to 5.17 in 2012. His walks per nine are also up just a tick. In terms of velocity, he's averaged 88.67 miles per hour on the fastball and 89.16 miles per hour on the sinker. Garcia gave up six earned runs in six innings of work in his last start against Houston.
Saturday, May 12th, 7:15 PM ET
In game two, former Braves farmhand Adam Wainwright goes up against Brandon Beachy. After missing 2011 due to Tommy John surgery, Wainwright has been up and down so far in 2012. He sports a 2-3 record with a 5.61 ERA, 4.34 FIP, and 2.65 xFIP. What should jump out to you there is the xFIP, which means that Wainwright has had struggles with the longball. This year, he's got a 28% HR/FB ratio and is allowing 1.87 home runs per nine innings. That isn't going to last, and will continue to go down and stabilize as time goes on. Wainwright is primarily a sinker, cutter, and curveball pitcher with his sinker being the primary weapon. He throws the curveball 22% of the time, and gets a whiff rate of just over 20% on it. Other than home run issues, his peripherals look good. A K/9 of over nine and a BB/9 of just under two is impressive. After a rough start to the season, Wainwright is coming off probably his best start of the year. He gave up one run and seven hits while striking out seven in seven innings of work against Houston.
Sunday, May 13th, 2:15 PM ET
The series finale pits Tommy Hanson against former Ole Miss great Lance Lynn. After starting only two games last season in 18 appearances, Lynn has been one of the bigger surprises this season on the mound. He's 6-0 with a 1.40 ERA, 2.90 FIP, and 2.90 xFIP. So far, he's been primarily fastball and curveball, but as Keith Law has stated this week, the emergence of his two-seamer has helped him tremendously. He doesn't have one dominant, swing-and-miss pitch, but his curveball has earned whiffs over 15% of the time this season. Lynn is striking out 8.61 batters per nine, and is walking 2.56 batters per nine.
***All pitch information from Brooks Baseball.***
Jason Motte - RH (CL)
Fernando Salas -RH
Kyle McClellan -RH
Mitchell Boggs -RH
Marc Rzepczynski -LH
J.C. Romero -LH
Victor Marte -RH
This will be an incredibly tough test for the Braves. St. Louis is really good, and has a lineup that is hitting out of its mind right now. Atlanta needs to focus on avoiding the sweep, and anything more than that is gravy. A good performance against a really good St. Louis team would do wonders though going forward.